LAWRENCEBURG, Ind. (WKRC) – More than three years ago, Indiana state leaders, including former governor and now-Vice President Mike Pence, vowed to sink billions into the Tanner Creek site just east of downtown Lawrenceburg of this southeast Indiana river town.
But the state pulled the plug on putting its fourth port here. The reason? The site is too environmentally contaminated to make it work.
The Tanner Creek site is where a coal-fired power plant operated for years. It shut down less than 10 years ago, leaving behind at least three or four ponds containing highly toxic fly ash.
Pence and his successor, Eric Holcomb, wanted to build a port on the site of more than 700 acres. There was never an official price tag attached, but it was going to be in the billions of dollars. But recently released environmental studies found only 100 acres are usable.
That leaves leaders trying to figure out what to do next, although the city is still exploring using the site.
"It's always a disappointment when you're being identified as the fourth port of Indiana, and then all of a sudden you're not,” Lawrenceburg Mayor Kelly Mollaun said. “I was a big cheerleader for it, always been behind it. But the way I look at it, everything happens for a reason and I think we'll get some really good private development over there."
The state's decision was a victory of sorts for environmental activists, such as Matt Miles who’s been trying to get the owners to clean up the site for more than two years.
Miles says it still poses a risk to Dearborn County's drinking water.
"Stopping the port was never really the goal. It just became necessary,” Miles said. “It cost me two years of my life. It cost me my reputation. It cost me a lot of things that are going to come to light."
In its release, the state said it was continuing to monitor the cleanup and will continue to do so for the next 30 years.
Officials with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management said the decision to pull the port project will have no impact on the work the agency continues to do at the site.